The Flora Finders in Arizona are looking for volunteers to help the Coconino National Forest find and conserve rare plants locally

Kirstin Phillips discovers a rare fern on the mountain. Elden.

Flora Finder

Close-up of fern, last collected 34 years ago when researchers at the Museum of Northern Arizona were studying the species.


The Museum of Northern Arizona and Flagstaff Arboretum are seeking volunteers to help the Coconino National Forest find the rare plants found on the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden.

With funding from Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, Kirstin Olmon Phillips, botany collections manager at the Museum of Northern Arizona, and Sheila Murray, research botanist at the Flagstaff Arboretum, launched a community scientist-led program to monitor rare plants.

The first step in conserving Arizona rare plants is to determine their status and threats. The Arizona Flora Finders program is designed to help the Coconino National Forest do just that. There are 176 plant species on the US Forest Service Region 3’s List of Sensitive Species, and the Arizona Natural Heritage program monitors 872 plant species. These are too many species for US Forest Service personnel or a land management agency to attempt to monitor on their own, especially in this day and age with limited funds. Citizen scientists can help here!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Phillips and Murray had to switch their training from personal to virtual in 2020. Despite the pandemic, in 2020 they taught 26 citizen scientists through Zoom how to identify 10 rare plants that have not been found on the San Francisco Peaks or Mount Elden in decades. When the volunteers find the plants, they document basic information about the location, population size, phenology and threats to the plants. Even if the plants cannot be found, this is valuable information that can help land managers.

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